While it may be the dead of winter, it is also the start of marathon training for a lot of people who are getting into Spring and early marathons, like the Boston or maybe the Pig. Well, I have had some readers write in asking more about the Forerunner series and what the differences are between the models.
Garmin opened up the GPS fitness market a few years back with the introduction of the Forerunner 101/201/301 series. These were obviously successful, and user feedback sparked a redesign to what is now a very popular series, the Forerunner 205/305 series. In a parallel development they also designed the bikers version of the Forerunner; the Garmin Edge 205 and 305 group.
Garmin Forerunner 101 - This is based on generation I for the Forerunner design, and tracks satellites, gives you speed and distance, and tracks where you go with a breadcrumb trail. Its design has the satellite antenna next to the readout on the face of the unit. Well, when you run this part usually faces the side of the road, not the sky where the satellites are, so reception can be a problem (this is solved in the 205/305 series designs). It will mark up to 100 waypoints that you can use to navigate, and includes a black and white LCD. The unit is waterproof to IPX7 standards and uses 2AA batteries. It will not connect to your computer. - I wouldn't recommend this model. See recommendations below.
Garmin Forerunner 201 - This has all the features of the Forerunner 101, but adds the ability to connect to a computer through a serial connection to your PC. The unit can be used with Garmin's Training Center Software and with MotionBased programs. It adds a rechargeable battery that lasts for up to 15 hours. It weighs less than 3 ounces.
Garmin Forerunner 301 - This has all the features of the Garmin Forerunner 201, but adds a heartrate monitor strap. The Forerunner 301 collects this information wirelessly and includes that data in for use in training exercises. This allows you to do advanced workouts using the heartrate data as criteria for your pace. The rechargeable battery life is up to 14 hours.
Garmin Forerunner 205 - This new generation unit has several design features that make it superior to the older Forerunner X01 series. The unit is shaped like a watch which fits the wrist better, but they also placed a high sensitivity GPS receiver in the flat part near the face so that when you run, the antenna faces the sky; brilliantly simple. The unit also upgrades to a grayscale readout with finer resolution that makes it feel less like an Atari and more like a modern piece of equipment. The 205 also includes the ability to run "Courses" which is garmin's term for a pretty clever way to race yourself. You can capture a run, and then at a later date run that same course against your previous time, trying to meet or beat it. No more average pace calculations across the hills, just race yourself! The rechargeable battery lasts up to 10 hours. These connect to a computer via USB, which makes it download a lot faster. On top of this, some machines can't even connect to serial plug. - For more information see my review on the Forerunner 205.
Garmin Forerunner 305 - This new generation unit has all that the Forerunner 205 has, and adds on the heartrate monitor. This heartrate monitor is also an improvement over the 301 model by being more comfortable and easier to wear. With better fit comes better accuracy in the data capture. The beauty of this unit if you also bike is that you can add the wireless cadence meter and collect that information too.
Foot Pod - Another accessory that is available for indoor runners is the Foot Pod, that allows you to keep using your Forerunner 305 on a treadmill. It senses your foot's movement and transmits the data to the Forerunner.
What Forerunner should I buy?
I would seriously steer you towards the Forerunner 205 or 305 which are just better products due to their better design features and high sensitivity GPS chips. The older 101/201/301 can drop satellite signals more easily in heavy tree cover, but with the better chipset, the 205/305 are a lot less likely to do this. I used to use the 201 on runs and bike rides, and in a heavily tree covered situation, you'll get intervals of no data. Bugs me to lose that information.
The 205/305 units can also hook up to all computers with USB; including Macs. Garmin has put out Mac compatible training center software that will be available shortly for download.
Garmin is running a Rebate on the Forerunner 205 and 305 through May 15, 2007 - so you can almost get a 205 for the price of a 201, and a 305 for the price of a 301; why not upgrade?!?!?